Southport Records, 2023 By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Chicago chanteuse, label entrepreneur, and jazz maven Joanie Pallatto has spent the 21st Century riding the line between jazz and pop. Ever since 2008’s It’s Not Easy, Pallatto and her husband co-writer Bradley Parker-Sparrow (aka The Sparrow) have broadened their production palette to include varying sound textures as their songs advanced more personal and philosophical musings. Given Joanie’s ability to exude emotional depth through her succinct and sensitive phrasing, the results were always entertaining, witty, and often cathartic to those who listened live.
This time, though, the success of Pallatto’s new album Accidental Melody is a key production decision—giving the reins of the backup band and its production to guitarist Fareed Haque, who accompanied Pallatto on previous albums, including a key role on 2021’s My Original Plan. For this recording, Haque brought along a comfortable ensemble that builds a sumptuous foundation, almost like a comfortable quilt, for Pallatto to sink into, relax, and express herself. On Plan, Haque was a notable addition; on this new effort, he is a co-star who controls most of the album’s ambiance and textures, to Pallatto’s benefit.
Accidental Melody is the accumulation of Joanie and Sparrow’s post-pandemic feelings, represented by often ironic or paradoxical bromides that symbolize the common experience, usually stated within Haque’s postmodern bossa mode that bolsters the irony. In the process, with the guitar-laden production, Pallatto moves stylistically closer to someone like Joni Mitchell, who successfully traveled that pop/jazz line.
“Surrender,” the opening song, has guitar tunings and bass lines that hearken back to Mitchell’s Geffen days, leading to soft wordless moments and a monologue: “At the beginning of humanity, a single temptation was the world’s destiny…We can never change what is.” In the background of the soft Latin funk is Haque, double-tracked on Spanish and eloquently picked electric guitars, supported by his supple mates John Christensen on bass, Eric Hines and Juan Pastor on percussion, with Pallatto’s husband and co-writer Bradley Parker-Sparrow on occasional piano. “Surrender to life” is the message, concentrating on what “life” brings rather than trying to control it, a surely post-pandemic mood.
And the pandemic has its place here. “Apart,” written at the beginning of it while Pallatto was stuck in Costa Rica, waxes paradoxical about being together while apart, while “You Think You Know” muses on the period when we weren’t sure what we could or could not do, especially within human relationships.
Time—aka aging—serves as a co-theme. “In the Middle of Life” scatters images of balcony observations, pronouncing “Here we are in the middle of life.” “Keeping Track of Time” sounds like all of us over 50—where did it all go since…? “The Lost Year” is a kind of answer to her question, “Where do we go in the middle of life?” Time passes; one must face the new day.
Other tunes include the title song, a samba ode to the “melody hiding right in front of me”; an apparent paean to Haque, “A Shooting Star”; a lovely duet with Sparrow, “The Melody of You,”; and an attempt at romantic encouragement that turns into a book of proverbs on love, “Don’t Ever Look for Love.”
In her comfortability, Pallatto takes some chances that emphasize the jazz.
“Sound” is a solo exploration embellished by various percussive and pianistic effects. “Lafayette,” a bluesy duet with Haque, is like a postcard heralding the singer’s return from Indiana, including some excellent scat moments.
Through it all, Haque provides wonderful comping and exquisite solos, playing at the top of his game, including his version of “The Cuckoo Clock” during Pallatto’s quirky tune. The recording quality is first-rate.
Given her over 40-year career here in Chicago, Joanie Pallatto has certainly earned the freedom to explore and expand the music she loves and take advantage of the relationships she has fostered. Her growing partnership with Fareed Haque has coalesced, for the time being, with this scintillating album, perhaps promising more to come from this always interesting artist.
Joanie Pallatto, Accidental Melody. Southport Records, 2023.
Joanie Pallatto, vocals
Fareed Haque, classical, electric, and string guitars
Jon Christensen, bass
Juan Pastor and Eric Hines, percussion
Bradley Parker-Sparrow, piano (6, 10)
About Jeff Cebulski
Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at email@example.com